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New York Giants’ offensive line needs improving to compete in rugged division

Judging by their opener, any preseason forecasts that had the New York Giants easily contending for a National Football Conference East division title seems a bit hasty now – especially since Big Blue backers saw how feeble their offensive line is and how vanilla the passing game is, sans injured wideout Odell Beckham Jr.

It’s difficult to fathom that any game this early in the season can be considered a crossroads matchup, but for the Giants, their maligned offensive line is already there.

When the Giants (0-1) host the Detroit Lions (1-0), Monday night, it’ll be a great test for Big Blue’s overly-criticized front five, because they’re going against a frisky Lions’ defense that completely dominated an Arizona Cardinals squad that many had pegged for the playoffs. The Lions so decimated a good Arizona offensive line, that this Monday Night Football battle may give Big Blue fans the shakes.

If the Dallas Cowboys so dominated the Giants, last Sunday night, then it might be a long season for the G-Men. The Cowboys are hardly considered an elite defense, but they made minced meat of the Giants’ offensive line. That doesn’t bode well for New York, which plays in a division that has some fast and physical defensive front sevens.

Losing 19-3 to the Cowboys in their home opener isn’t an embarrassing event. But it was how the Giants lost that may make even the most faithful Big Blue fan pump their brakes on expectations. If quarterback Eli Manning was under such duress against the meager Cowboys’ pass rush, then how will the future Hall of Fame signal caller fare for an entire season?

Left guard Justin Pugh put it best when critiquing the play of the offense, specifically his unit.

“The way we looked ain’t going to win us any football games in the NFL,” Pugh bemoaned.

The Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins have to be licking their collective chops knowing the Giants’ protection of Manning is shoddy at best. And it’s not like the Giants’ rushing attack can take off some of the pressure, because as currently constituted, there is no running game. The rushing game generated just 35 yards and 2.9 yards a carry against Dallas. And the passing game – during the rare times Manning had more than a moment to scan the field – only had two pass receptions (of 29 attempts) that gained more than 20 yards. Holding the ball for just 25:46 also doesn’t bode well for the Giants.

Head coach Ben McAdoo can easily pinpoint the problems…but can he devise a way to fix them?

“What we need to work on as a team [is] quite simply, play more offense, play less defense,” he said. “Time of possession is important, as is field position. Offensively, we need timely third-down conversions. We need to make the makeable ones.”

McAdoo may have to already tweak the lineup in order to stave off a mad rush from divisional foes towards his quarterback.

“We’ll consider all those moving forward,” McAdoo said via conference call when asked about any potential changes to starters and schemes. “We’ll take a look at it week-to-week like we always do and do what we feel is best for the team. We need to do a better job on third down handling the stunts [in pass protection]. … We just need to get better technically. We can’t keep having technical breakdowns – but, again, it’s not one guy. There’s enough to spread around. It’s not just the offensive line.”

McAdoo is correct that the offensive line isn’t the only part of the offense that’s failing, as the Beckham-less wideouts couldn’t gain separation and the running backs were non-existent – but the line is the primary concern.

Dallas defensive end Demarcus Lawrence terrorized Manning, sacking him twice. And while Lawrence is a fine player, Philadelphia (defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Brandon Graham) and Washington (linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith) also boast more decorated pass rushers than the former Boise State University star. The NFC East gauntlet awaits, so the Giants need to sharpen their skills if they’re to max that preseason hype.

“There was so much optimism coming into it, so I thought we would execute at a much higher level in the first half and we didn’t,” Pugh recounted the opener. “I liked how we came out and started the third quarter. I liked some of the drives we had, but we got to play better complementary football. We got to get better field position for our defense. Get them in better spots and then just do it differently.”

Pugh isn’t the only lineman who knows they need to be better if the Giants expect to be the last team standing in the NFC East.

“We just didn’t do what we can do,” center Weston Richburg said about the Dallas game. “We didn’t do what we are capable of … we know we need to [get better].”

The Lions aren’t in their division, but it’s still an important game. They’ll provide a great test for McAdoo’s crew, as the next few weeks feature teams with pass-rushing demons (the Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, and Los Angeles Rams).

If the blocking woes aren’t fixed soon, their divisional title hopes may be dashed long before they square off against their division rivals in three of the final four weeks of the season.

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